NEW DELHI: A parliamentary standing committee has asked the Union Minority Affairs Ministry to plug loopholes and work with states towards preventing alleged misappropriation of funds under scholarship schemes for minority students.
The Parliament Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, in its report assessing the demands for grants for 2021-22 pertaining to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, said it is "surprised" to note that the ministry was not able to spend its budgetary allocation fully during 2020-21 due to slow pace of expenditure in scholarship component.
The low utilisation of fund occurred despite the allocation being reduced by more than Rs 1,000 crore at the revised estimate stage from Rs 5,029 crore to Rs 4,005 crore.
"The Committee, although, were informed that the said reduction was not for the Scholarship Schemes but for other Schemes of the Ministry, nonetheless feel that as compared to other Ministries implementing similar Scholarship Schemes, the Ministry of Minority Affairs has stood way behind in utilizing the allotted funds," it said.
Calling for introspection, the committee said it is unable to comprehend as to how the ministry would accomplish objectives of these schemes unless all states and union territories complete their processes of re-verification in a very short time, which, in all probability, is not likely to happen.
According to the 15th Finance Commission Report, all the schemes are likely to be reviewed for the next five years, hence, the committee recommend that the monthly/quarterly expenditure plan of the ministry for the year 2021-22 must also be executed strictly so that they are able to justify their schemes and project the correct requirement of funds at the revised estimate stage too, it said.
The committee further noted that it is "quite disturbed" by cases reported about the alleged misappropriation of funds/funds going to fake students under these scholarship schemes for children belonging to underprivileged minorities in six states, which are under investigation/enquiry.
"In one State, after enquiry, the fraud is stated to have happened due to passwords leak by certain vested interests as well as other loopholes," it said.
The panel said the ministry representatives have always been claiming that the system is fail-safe due to all transactions/verifications done online, a dedicated portal, cash transfer through DBT and similar measures, which are definitely the need of the hour, it is disconcerting for it to observe that such instances of corruption happened.
The committee further asked the ministry to plug all identified loopholes in the system, strengthen privacy of data and passwords and reduce all manual interventions, be it school personnel, banking intermediaries, NGOs or unauthorised persons.
Apart from that the committee said it is of the strong opinion that the ministry should also counsel the state governments to try to reach out to a sample size of beneficiary minority students directly to ascertain that they are not being duped in the pretext of government scholarships, and that they are actually in receipt, through DBT, of the full amount of the entitled scholarship money for the term, as approved against their names in the portal.
"Also the banks should ensure that the accounts of students do not get closed due to non-activity since minority children cannot do regular transactions, because some evaluation studies have shown that the scholarship money gets reverted also due to accounts being inactive/closed," it said.
The committee reiterated that fraudulent activity by unscrupulous elements in schools, banks, NGOs, voluntary organisations, etc., who find ways to circumvent the processes for their personal gains, must be stopped.
"In fact, the Committee learned that recently around 8000 NGOs have been delisted by the Government for various shortcomings in their functioning," according to the report.
The committee sought information on the progress in the ministry's efforts as well as the outcome of the enquiries currently underway in some states on the matter.
The committee is also disturbed with the fact that utilisation certificates for a staggering amount of Rs 3,610.
82 crore released up to March, 2019 are pending and some states have proposed to surrender projects involving share of Rs 275.
"The Committee cannot but conclude that the Ministry have not been able to shoulder the huge responsibility of this ambitious Scheme.
While the Ministry would be requesting for more funds at RE stage to be released to fill the gap in the next Financial Year i.e.2021-22, they are also statedly seeking an outlay of Rs 2,185 crore for the year 2021-22," the report stated.
Moreover, the committee noted the ministry's Nai Manzil Scheme is also lagging.
The scheme aims to benefit minority youths including girl students in the age group of 17 to 35 years who do not have a formal school leaving certificate.
"The Committee are disappointed to note that despite aid from the World Bank, the Scheme has been lagging mainly due to non-availability of job opportunities in the vicinity of the beneficiaries particularly for girls who are not willing to take up jobs outside," it stated.
It is "disappointing" that out of 98,311 persons enrolled, only 26,312 have got job placement.
The panel "desires that skill training programme may include on-line work, which can be done right from home itself, particularly for girls from minority communities," it said.